by Jessica Dailey
Get outside at Hudson Yards
New York City is known just as much for its iconic architecture as it is for its delightful and unexpected landscape. Pockets of gardens that sprouted from city blocks, old piers and railways have been transformed into vibrant oases like the forest that grows in the middle of Brooklyn.
But to experience some of the city’s most innovative and enchanting parks, spend a day in the West Side neighborhood, where you’ll find a network of groves and plazas threaded through the streetscape like a ribbon of green jewels waiting to be discovered.
The verdant outdoor spaces in and around Hudson Yards are a lush urban green space, offering not only an abundance of natural beauty, but engaging public art, the city’s newest landmark, community events and so much more.
Some of the most celebrated names in landscape design have created the parks of Manhattan’s West Side neighborhoods. James Corner Field Operations led the design and construction of the High Line, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Inc. concocted the masterplan for Hudson Boulevard Park, Heatherwick Studio worked with Mathews Nielsen to create the whimsical Little Island and Nelson Byrd Woltz devised Hudson Yards’ Public Square and Gardens that has quickly become a nexus of culture and community.
All deployed innovative and unexpected technologies to make these green spaces flourish in the most unlikely of locations. Hudson Yards is home to NYC’s “smartest park.” It was built over an active railyard and feature specially designed soil beds that allow large tree roots to grow horizontally, a 60,000 gallon rainwater collection tank to irrigate plants and a network of cooling tubes to keep the plants happy even as the structure beneath reaches 150 degrees. Meanwhile, Little Island floats above the Hudson River on a bouquet-like cluster of tulip-shaped columns that hold a wonderland of flowers, trees and grassy lawns. The undulating 2.4-acre landscape features meandering pathways that gently climb to a hilltop with knock-out views from the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building.
Flora for all the seasons
In the Public Square and Gardens, there are more than 28,000 plants and 150 mature trees. The result is a lush landscape that offers something different every season.
A rainbow of tulips welcomes spring each year, followed by a bouquet of blooms throughout the season: pansies and pink Okamé Cherry Blossoms, white azaleas and the fuchsia Spilled-Wine Weigela. Summer brings wildflowers like echinacea, purple Stacey’s hummelo and black-eyed susans, along with show-stopping blooms on 700 hydrangeas.
Come fall, watch as the trees change colors: river birches turn gold, red twig dogwoods go scarlet, oaks become terracotta and hickories bring a vibrant yellow. When the leaves drop, string lights get wrapped around each tree, turning the square into a sparkling winter wonderland dotted with evergreens.
A rotating display of public art
Murals abound inside and out at Hudson Yards, with two spaces in the Square often featuring large-scale paintings. Elle Street Art took over a wall along 11th Avenue with a colorful vision of empowered women, while Key Detail (who happens to live at Hudson Yards) [CK1] created a mural that celebrates the neighborhood.
Just adjacent to the Public Square is the High Line Spur, a section of the park that cuts through a passage at 10 Hudson Yards, where monumental contemporary art sculptures hold court over the city for 18 months.
There’s also a multitude of venues in the neighborhood to enjoy a play or concert en plein air: The Shed puts on seasonal outdoor performances in Hudson Yards’ Public Square & Gardens, while Little Island offers both a 687-seat amphitheater and swooping plaza that’s just begging for a dance ensemble.
New York’s interactive landmark
Anchoring the Gardens is another design marvel: Vessel, the 150-foot-tall centerpiece of Hudson Yards, designed by architect Heatherwick Studio. Featuring 154 interconnected staircases and 80 landings, the honeycomb-shaped structure offers varying views and perspectives on the parks and surrounding cityscape. It’s a social hub and must-see landmark.
Since opening in 2019, Vessel has become an international attraction and irresistible Instagram fodder. The underside features a gleaming copper-colored steel that reflects the activity above and below, creating an interactive experience for visitors and viewers.
Fun for the kids
No park is complete without a playground, and the West End’s does not disappoint. Located in Bella Abzug Park—named for the late feminist, civil rights activist, and U.S. Representative—the play area features a climbing dome packed with challenging rope sections to keep little ones entertained for hours and oversized circular benches perfect for picnics. There are also three water features and talk tubes. Canopies provide shade and a squishy, purple checkerboard floor surface provides a cushy landing pad underfoot.
While the Alice in Wonderland-like landscape of Little Island is enough to delight kids of any age, the park adds an extra dose of magic with a mobile art cart, climbable boulder scrambles and a dedicated stage tucked away in The Glade, for story time, artists events and more.